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PAC is bankrolling ads backing Huntsman

The pro-tuition voucher group vouching for him

SHARE PAC is bankrolling ads backing Huntsman

A pro-tuition-tax-credit PAC is independently bankrolling ads supporting GOP gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., who has refused to accept donations from special-interest groups so he's not beholden to anyone if elected.

The Parents for Choice in Education PAC over the weekend launched radio ads supporting Huntsman, who the PAC says will give public schools resources to improve and give parents more school choices.

Ads cite Huntsman's support of the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship, a bill vetoed by Gov. Olene Walker that would have given government vouchers for the private schooling of disabled children.

Huntsman also backs "a limited, means-tested tuition tax credit," campaign manager Jason Chaffetz has said.

The ads are airing on KSL Radio and other stations, Parents for Choice executive director Elisa Clements Peterson said Monday. She did not disclose their cost but said state PAC reports are due today.

The PAC spent $17,000 on the KSL Radio ads alone, the station reports.

"This isn't a contribution to his campaign," Peterson said. "We want to make sure voters understand where he is on education. . . . We want to make sure he wins."

Chaffetz understood the ads were coming but had not yet heard them.

"We neither seek nor accept the endorsement of any special-interest groups," he said. "We can't suppress their free speech . . . it's their decision, of which we're not part. As long as it's positive, I don't have any problems with it."

The ads are called independent expenditures. That's when a group spends money on behalf of a candidate or issue but does so without coordinating with the candidate.

No independent expenditures have been made on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Matheson Jr., press secretary Kate Fielder said. Matheson opposes tuition tax credits and vouchers.

Independent expenditures often accompany national causes, such as gay marriage initiatives or education vouchers, said Ron Hrebenar, University of Utah's political science department chairman and Hinckley Institute of Politics interim director. Often, national donors fund such expenditures.

Parents for Choice is a Utah PAC with national donors. More than half of its $187,500 in contributions this year came from the Alexandria, Va.-based All Children Matter, according to Sept. 15 PAC reports. All Children Matter supports candidates who have "principles of school choice most appropriate for their respective state," according to its Web site.

"The fact Huntsman is so in favor of the voucher idea (means) he is an attractive investment" for Parents for Choice in Education, Hrebenar said. If elected, "this group has an in. It never hurts these groups to cement the deal."

Tuition tax credits are politically hot. While several bills have failed, a special-education voucher bill passed. But Walker vetoed it, creating a political firestorm contributing to her election bid loss at the GOP convention.

Supporters and critics discussed their stands on tuition tax credits Monday at a Hinckley Institute of Politics forum moderated by the Utah Foundation.

State associate superintendent Ray Timothy noted parents have choices within public schools, be it through charter schools or schools outside their neighborhoods. But he said Utah can't afford a private school tuition tax credit that would take from school coffers.

However, Royce Van Tassell, executive director of Education Excellence Utah, said per-student spending and test scores grow in states allowing such measures. "The discussion isn't about whether choice is a good or bad thing; it's the degree of choice we want to have."

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com